Learning to curb aggressive behavior in dogs takes time and patience. If you’re having similar problems with your dog, here are a few tips that might make it easier.

Understanding aggressive behavior in dogs is the key to curbing it
Understanding aggressive behavior in dogs is the key to curbing it.
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My Australian shepherd, Charlie, has an ongoing feud with the golden retriever down the block. I’ve taken to crossing the street when we pass that house on his walks. Meanwhile, the golden retriever’s owners have taken to putting their dog inside whenever we approach their front yard. Somehow, the barking never stops.

We’ve been working on Charlie’s aggressive behavior for a while now. Learning to curb aggression takes time and a lot of patience. If you’re having similar problems with your dog, here are a few tips that might make it easier.

Note Aggressive Behavior in Advance

It may seem like your dog is going from zero to sixty in one second flat, but that probably isn’t the case. Dogs have a variety of behavioral cues that will likely appear before they start barking or straining against their leash.

Growling, rigid posture, quickly wagging tail, and bared teeth are all signs of aggression or distress in dogs.

If your dog displays these behaviors, try to move them away from whatever is bothering them.

New Aggressive Behavior? See a Veterinarian

Dogs may display what appears to be aggressive behavior when in reality they are scared, hurt, or uncomfortable. In particular, your dog may show aggressive behavior or grow defensive when someone tries to touch them because they are injured or sick. Older dogs in particular may grow more aggressive due to illness or physical pain.

If your dog suddenly shows an increase in aggressive behavior, this might be a good time for a trip to the veterinarian. Their behavior might be a sign of a physical problem.

Punishing Dogs for Aggressive Behavior can Backfire

For some dog owners, choker collars or electric fences might seem like an obvious way to keep their dog from chasing the mailman in the street. However, research shows that this isn’t always the case.

Punishing the dog for aggressive behavior may only escalate the situation. The dog may feel that they need to defend themselves against you.

Remember, for animals, fear is often the root of aggression. You won’t help your dog calm down by yanking their leash or yelling at them.

Yes, You can Curb Aggressive Behavior with Positive Reinforcement

If you can’t curb aggressive behavior with punishment, then what are you supposed to do? While it may seem counterintuitive, it’s possible to train a dog to avoid aggressive behavior with positive reinforcement.

If your dog gets defensive around strangers, try encouraging them to interact with someone they don’t often see. Reward them whenever they can approach or interact with strangers without showing aggressive behavior. Your dog will learn to associate strangers with being rewarded and their defensive behavior will decrease.


Training a dog is a slow process, especially when you’re trying to help your dog unlearn behavior that they’ve used for a long time. It takes a lot of effort and patience, but it’s not impossible.